Why Should You Care?

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Andrew and I have a problem. It’s the same problem a million other people have, with its roots in the most fundamental problem of human nature. Our problem: we want our stories to be heard. Why? That is the question (sorry, Hamlet).

I stumbled across this TED talk today. If you’ve got 18 minutes or so to spare, I recommend checking it out, he’s got some excellent points.

But something niggled at me while watching this. It’s the same thing that has been bugging me since I launched the first episode of Gone To Wonder, and even before that. Marketing.

I’ve decided marketing is the devil. Spend a bit of time on Twitter and watch the endless trains of the faithless writers trying to hock their books. Visit the cities filled with the foolish that I call Facebook (actually, I wouldn’t really know about that, since I refuse to give Facebook the time of day). In these magical places, you’ll see a whole lot of elevator pitches that amount to what Sinek points out is the “What” part of communicating. Is anyone sold on a 140 character blurb? A quote from the book? A bullet-point premise? I haven’t once bought a book from that kind of pitch, so I don’t know if it works or not. I have bought from people I thought were funny or interesting. Am I alone here?

And I’ve decided I can’t do it. It feels somehow false to me. On one hand, it’s like begging for attention. Andrew had a post not too look ago called Screaming Into the Void, which was a great way to put it (he also talks about a strategy for communicating in it that I liked but, again, requires people to listen, participate, and care, which is the whole game, I guess).

If and when the endeavor fails, what are you left with? Do you feel resentment for not piercing the barriers of human cultural consciousness, like it’s everyone’s fault? Do you feel small, an insignificant cog in a huge machine? Do you cling to the few fleeting connections you have made? Do you question the merits of continuing?

Admission time: I have felt all of those before, and will feel them again.

Nobody owes anyone else their attention, especially in the matter of a fictional book. You’ve got to earn it. Would that maybe be what the point of marketing is? To earn a few minutes of attention, and maybe a sale? Or, to be more cynical, to trick people into paying attention?

Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The What in my case is Gone To Wonder. But Why do I write stories, and why do I ask you to read them? Because stories are the most important thing to me. It touches on the core theme of my story itself—we have the power to shape our narratives in whatever fantastic ways we want.

If you’re going to buy my stories, I don’t want you to do it because it’s in a genre category you sometimes read, or you like the cover, or you saw that other people read it and rated it. I want you to read it because you feel the same way I do about stories. I want you to care about it, and by extension me and my “brand”, because my stories and the articles we write for the Bard matter to you.

All the best intentions in the world won’t get you anywhere, though. My book is available on Kindle for $2.99, but to prove this isn’t yet another wailing cry of desperation, I’m going to give it to you for free. No, not everyone. Not that guy over there, forget him. Just you. And I don’t care if you copy it and give it away to others, or if you read it but don’t say a word to a soul, or if you shit all over it on every social media platform known to man. I don’t care, because if you got this far and take the effort to contact me, I’m going to assume you care about the same thing I do, and that is story.

To get the book, just shoot me an email at beardedbards(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll zip you a pdf copy, and it’s yours forever. Also, Andrew is making the same offer for Tim and the Break-up of Impending Doom.

We continue to define the ‘why’ of the Bearded Bards, with our upcoming shift in posting style, but let there be no doubt in, the ‘why’ of me:

My whole life, I’ve been obsessed with fantastic stories, and imagined what it would be like to be a part of them. I write about the day that we can all shape our worlds into fantastical realms and our lives into the stories we always dreamed about. If you’ve ever pictured yourself as the hero of a story, then you too have gone to wonder.

Thanks for stopping by, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about marketing, stories, and I’d love to hear your ‘why’s, too.

Comic Corner: Clearing Out

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Used under Creative Commons. Original found at http://dannyfrank24.deviantart.com/art/Comic-Books-L-I-F-E-301303573

Over the years I built up quite a large comic collection. There was once a time that I would purchase nearly every Marvel monthly that I could. That would amount to about $60 worth of comics every week. Those days are long past. I no longer have the money, desire, or storage room to have that many comic books.

I’ve been working to unload myself of a great deal of my comic books lately. I’ve been using a free service called Yerdle to do much of that. I’ve talked about them before, and I just want to reinforce that they are pretty much the greatest thing ever for sustainability shopping.

There are some comics that I know I want to get rid of. My vast collection of Xmen comics? Yeah, those can go. My DC comics? Sure, most of those will go to better homes. There are those comics that I know I want to keep: The Boys, Fables, Runaways–yes, yes, and yes.

But there are those comics that are in limbo right now. What do I want to do with my Deus Ex Machina comics? Or my Y: The Last Man individual issues? I’m not quite sure. Plus there are a bunch of one-offs and short collection that I am not sure yet if I want to part with. And then there is the question of whether or not I want to build on that collection at all. Do I want to buy new comic books? Or do I want to get them in digital form? Or just rent them from the library?

Collecting anything can be a great hobby. But there can also be the questions of money vs storage vs enjoyment. Right now, I am trying to work out all of those things. We’ll have to see how it goes.

What about you? How is your comic collection? Looking to build it up, or trim it down? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

New Direction

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We’ve decided to make some changes here at the Bard. Started with a new look (check out that fancy logo eh?) and a new color scheme, and it’s going to continue with a new posting schedule. We’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to give you something to read every day, sometimes short, sometimes longer, always slightly… erratic.

But it hit us this weekend that we’re not really producing much unique content. Let’s face it, we’re newbies, our blog is small, our fan base is less a base and more a coffee table. Instead of trying to hit everyone with our version of click bait, we’re going to do what we like. That means we’re going full nerd.

We’ll be delivering a few of our normal fluff (Music To Write To, Three Things) on occasion, but that main change will be once a week, from either Andrew or I, you’ll be getting a longer post about our particular area of interest. I’ll be posting about tropes and Heroes Journey stuff as it relates to movies, books, video games, and (of course) theme parks. Andrew will be doing his comparative mythology thing. And we’ll both be podcasting! The plan right now is to work on a podcast a month, about the same things—tropes, mythology, and pop culture.

All this will start up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

Three Things: Get Educated

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This week for my Three Things I am going to share three completely unrelated things. Well, that’s not true. They are my favorite things in the world right now, and each one will get you educated about a different subject.

Going Deep with David Reese

First is Going Deep with David Reese. It’s a show by David Reese, author of How to Sharpen Pencils. In each show he takes something that you thought to be incredibly simple and breaks it down into it’s very complicated roots. Things like swatting a fly, making ice cubes, and digging a hole may seem easy, but wait until David Reese gets his hands on them. The episodes can be found on the National Georaphic channel or on Hulu.

United States of Secrets

Whether you think the leaks of classified information by Edwards Snowden were wrong or right, the new Frontline special, United States of Secrets, should be required viewing. They will break down exactly what was leaked, what it means, and how it effects everyone. If you don’t know enough about the NSA leaks, or if you know a whole lot about them and want to get even more informed, you should be watching this special. The two parts are both up on the Frontline website.

Humans Need Not Apply

The last entry this week comes from my favorite Youtuber, CGP Grey. The video describes how automation will soon change the way that work is done and the work that humans will do. Think that your job is safe from a bot? Think again. Grey outlines how each and every job is in the cross hairs of automation. An interesting video that will make you rethink just how worried you should be about the automation revolution.

Music To Write To: “Alone”

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Well, this has been a shitty week. There’s not much an individual can do to change things. Ultimately, we’ve got control of our own thoughts and not much else. When we do get a chance, we’ve got to step up and do our best. Andrew and I made a wager this week, which we hope will give a little back.

And there’s also the ever-present hope that, through writing, we may affect the world, even if it is just to entertain for a short while.

Please enjoy this week’s Music To Write To, a song I first heard on The Way Way Back and which has become a regular in my repertoire of music to listen to while writing. It reminds me during the lonely process that writing can be, I am never truly alone.

Bearded Bards Charity Challenge

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Sometimes you hit a lull. Sometimes procrastination takes over. ZT and I both realized this was happening to us after he sent me a text this morning. “How is IS?” He asked (IS being an abbreviation for Insular States, the current book I am working on). Well, Insular States is not going great. I am definitely not writing as much as I should be, in fact, I am almost at a complete stand still. My current average is sitting at zero words per hour.

So, in a way to motivate both myself and ZT to get working–me on Insular States and him on the second part of Gone to Wonder (have you read the first part? No? Well then you should probably take a moment to go over to Amazon and grab it up–it’s free if you have Amazon Unlimited!)–we have decided to begin a challenge. Our last challenge was the Steak Bet, where I did not end up getting a delicious steak. Sad Christmas . . .

This time around we have decided to do something a little more philanthropic. We will both start writing our first drafts, starting . . . now! The first person who gets done with their draft gets to pick a charity, and the person who finishes second will donate 25% of their profits from their book, to said charity, for a year. That’s right. 25% of profits, for a year. To charity.

The race is on. We’ll see who finishes first. Through the challenge we will keep you up to date on our progress, on which charity we choose to have the other donate their profits to, and maybe lay down a little smack talk while we’re at it *cough* I’m gonna wipe the floor with ZT *cough, cough*.

The challenge is on! Let’s see who gets to the finish line first!

 

The Assault of Laughter

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A true bearded bard

I’d like to write a bit about depression, laughter, Mark Twain, the dividing line between fiction and reality, and Robin Williams (it’ll come together, just bear with me).

My favorite Mark Twain work is The Mysterious Stranger. It’s an odd choice, perhaps, given it’s status as a posthumous work. It was sort of cobbled together from different drafts, and there are a couple different versions of it, and it isn’t one of his well known works, but I found it to be decades ahead of its time. It is a very existential piece, especially in the ending. Mark Twain used a unique perspective—an angel named Satan—to bring to bare his most scathing rebuke of humanity. It isn’t particularly funny, but given Twain’s body of work, and the dark mood he came under in his later years, that can be forgiven. Besides the ending, the thing I like most about it is the following quote:

For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon–laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution– these can lift at a colossal humbug–push it a little–weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

This was brought to mind yesterday with the news of Robin Williams’ death. But I often have this passage in mind whenever the news brings an unending torrent of woe and despair. Riots in Missouri, child beheadings in Iraq, war in Gaza and Ukraine, deadly virus outbreaks. So much bad going on, it’s hard to fathom. I have to remind myself that the world we live in is actually far safer than almost any time in human history. It just doesn’t seem that way sometimes.

That can happen on the personal level, too. If you’ve ever been clinically depressed, you know that life can feel like a highlight reel of bad news. I’ve been there. It’s a place where every negative about you, and the world around you, is exploded in proportion to everything else. It gets so bad that you go numb and your emotional nerve endings become nonexistent. When I was in the deepest trough of my depression, I alternated between panic and cold calculation. I added up all the variables, crunched the numbers, and decided that the universe would be improved if I wasn’t in it. I can look back at that time and see that I missed some numbers, or miscalculated values. But the constant loop in my head of bad-worse-worst let nothing in.

Addiction and depression are diseases, with behaviors very similar to viral and bacterial infections. They infect you, one way or another, and unless treated the infection spreads and can become fatal.

Robin Williams had a lot to live for. Family, friends, a world that valued him very highly. You might say what he did was selfish, in which case you might be an asshole. I can’t say it is universally true that those that commit suicide in this manner think this way, but I can say with authority what my thought patterns were when I attempted to take my own life. I was absolutely convinced that I was scum for doing it, but that was even more a reason to remove myself from my loved ones’ lives. They’d be better off without a quitter like me.

I was so wrong that it is difficult to talk about. I still feel a lot of shame, and that can tug me down sometimes. But I also know better how those feelings and actions impact the people around me. I know what a long-term deal it is, too. I saw plenty of evidence first hand at the mental health facility I was taken to. So when I find the things that pull me up, I grab hold of them hard. Writing is one of those things. Music, movies, books, theme parks—all of these are forms of stories, and I live for stories. If someone ever asks me why such things mean anything in the face of hardship around the world, the short answer is ‘because they do’ and the long answer is ‘because I don’t’.

Write what you know is a bit of a silly cliche, but in my case, I can’t help it. I write about the things that I’m most passionate about (like theme parks and monomyths), and also about themes I’m passionate about. Which means depression has cropped up a lot in my fiction, and will do so for a long time. It’s there in Gone To Wonder. It’s there in a short story I’m writing, about a kingdom trapped in an unending night. It’s there in my psyche, gnawing at the edges.

It’s important to me, then, to try to keep things in perspective. Nothing is ever truly black. Even in the darkest corner of the sky there’s light. Even in the blackest, gloomiest writing, there’s got to be humor. Because humor is the best weapon in our arsenal at holding back the demons that threaten to overwhelm us. Think about that first Saturday Night Live! episode after 9/11, or the hysterical and poignant Charlie Chaplin film, The Great Dictator, or the irreverent thumb-of-the-nose that was Dr. Strangelove. This is why the loss of a comedian like Robin Williams is being felt so much right now by so many. His arsenal was great, and will be missed.

People will always ask ‘why did he do it?’, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is ‘how did he fight so long?’ Family, friends, and laughter. In the end it wasn’t enough, but it sure makes a burden easier to bear.

On that note, I think we need to laugh. Here’s a clip of Robin Williams on Craig Ferguson’s show last fall. I could watch those two riff together for days.

No matter what happens, never lose your sense of humor.

Image via sesamestreet.tumblr.com